"We're making our mark," Sianna Siemonsma said confidently Wednesday afternoon, in a matter-of-fact way. "This is the new Newport."
It has certainly seemed like a new beginning this season for the Newport Harbor High girls' soccer team. But Siemonsma, a senior forward, almost never made it to her fourth year on varsity.
As the losses piled up, particularly last season, Siemonsma thought about quitting the team. It certainly would have been an understandable move. There's also a greater risk of injury in high school soccer, and she has been committed to the University of Washington since she was a sophomore.
The Sailors finished 4-13-7 last season, and 2-8 in the Sunset League for last place. The losing was nothing new, and longtime coach Larry Draluck resigned mid-season. Meanwhile, Siemonsma did some soul searching. She had serious talks with her parents, Dave and Jody, who encouraged her to keep going.
"I have thought about [quitting], a lot, actually," Siemonsma said. "I thought about it in the middle of the season, when everything was crumbling. And then, before our season started, I thought, 'Do I really want to go back?' High school was so frustrating, and I could be getting myself ready for college.
"But then I thought we're going to have a fresh start, and I'm going to regret it if I don't play with my friends. High school, you can never go back. I thought I'd stick it through and see how it goes."
She can be glad she came back for her senior season. The fresh start under first-year coach Justin Schroeder has been more than that. It's been a return to relevance, even in the tougher-than-ever Sunset League.
Siemonsma helped Newport Harbor achieve an undefeated preseason that included winning the Best in the West Tournament "EFGH" Division championship. And the Sailors (13-3-2, 4-3 in league) are in third place in league and on track for a berth in the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs, which would be the program's first postseason appearance since 2012.
"It was shocking to go undefeated in preseason," Siemonsma said. " It's really exciting; like night and day ... and you never know with these teams [in league]. You never know what can happen. Just because we beat Fountain Valley doesn't mean they're not good, because they beat Los Al and Edison. All of these teams are so good."
Include Newport Harbor in that group. Siemonsma is an accomplished club soccer player with Slammers FC, but the Sailors have never been this good during her time in high school. A talented freshman class has helped, but the senior has been better than ever too.
The Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week has 22 goals this season, which is third in Orange County and approaching her jersey number of 24. Two of the goals last week just happened to be of the golden variety.
Siemonsma scored, assisted by sophomore Emily Johnson, to help the Sailors earn a 2-1 win at Fountain Valley on Jan. 17. Two days later, she stole a backward pass to the goalie and scored her second goal of the game in extra time as Newport Harbor earned a 2-1 win against Huntington Beach at Costa Mesa High.
Beating the two-time defending league champion Oilers felt good to the Sailors, especially after losing to them 4-3 — also on a golden goal — in the league opener. And, after Newport Harbor beat Marina on Thursday by a 4-1 count, the Sailors have now won three games in a row in the tough league.
Johnson, a dynamic player who has 10 goals and a team-best 12 assists, certainly has helped. Schroeder moved her to the defense for league play, a move he could make because talented freshmen like Skylynn Rodriguez (seven goals) and Sadie Pitchess (four) also can score. Rodriguez is currently out with an injury, but hopes to return before the end of the season.
With Johnson on defense, players like seniors Sienna Ward and Jenny Garfias, plus junior Eva Nadeau, also have stepped up in the midfield. Nadeau scored the Sailors' first goal against Fountain Valley. But everyone also knows they have a determined forward like Siemonsma up top who can put the ball away.
"She's tough, she's gritty," Schroeder said. "She has a certain reckless abandon to her game at times. It works out for us sometimes, and sometimes it doesn't. But I just think she's more comfortable this year. She doesn't have to feel like the entire team requires her to win the ball, beat two or three players and score. At this point, we're getting her the ball, and she has to put the ball in the back of the net.
"I don't think it's a coincidence that we put some kids around her that can really help her, and all of a sudden, she's really thriving. I think it's a testament to her and also the rest of the team, in a lot of ways."
Sianna is the second Siemonsma to earn Athlete of the Week honors in three weeks. Earlier this month it was her twin brother Chandler, a goalie for the Newport boys' soccer team, earning the honor. Chandler broke his right hand but the Sailors boys have kept winning in league, and are in first place with a 5-1 mark.
One thing that Sianna did miss out on this year was the Battle of the Bay game against rival CdM, as it was rained out and not rescheduled. Even with the Sailors' overall losing in the past three years, she helped them earn a 1-0-2 mark in the Battle of the Bay. She scored a goal in each of the three rivalry games.
But Schroeder has been telling his team that he believes they'll still meet the Sea Kings this season, in the playoffs. CdM is currently the top-ranked team in Division 2.
The Sailors might not be favored in that matchup. But after everything that Siemonsma has been through in her high school career, she certainly wouldn't mind.
Sticking it out and not quitting, it turned out, was definitely the right call.
"It's really exciting," she said. "It feels good. We're always the underdogs. [Opponents] have low expectations for us, and all of a sudden we come in and they're like, 'Whoa, who's this?'"
Born: Dec. 1, 1998
Hometown: Newport Beach
Coach: Justin Schroeder
Favorite food: Macaroni and cheese
Favorite movie: "American Sniper"
Favorite athletic moment: Helping her Slammers FC Under-17 club team finish fourth at nationals last summer in Maryland.